31st N-G All-State Volleyball POY: Carlini's set up for big things

31st N-G All-State Volleyball POY: Carlini's set up for big things

AURORA — The best volleyball player in the school.

The best high school volleyball player in the state.

The best prep volleyball player in the nation.

Yeah, Lauren Carlini is all of that.

And more.

Although she is the epitome of excellence in her sport, she is also a shining example of the age-old expression, “Blossom where you’re planted.”

Many families with prodigy children trash the public school district in which they live. They will move to a neighboring community where the sports program — or coaching — is perceived as superior, or they will send their child to a private school.

The volleyball program at West Aurora has never ranked among the state’s elite. In its 40-year existence, there are no state trophies in the sport. From the time Carlini entered kindergarten in the fall of 1998 until the time she set foot on the campus as a freshman in the fall of 2009, West Aurora had not won a regional title in volleyball.

When Carlini was in seventh grade, the Blackhawks’ varsity volleyball record was 1-26.

And yet, it is the high school program that helped nurture the person chosen by prepvolleyball.com as the No. 1 prep player nationally. It is the program that helped develop a combination setter-hitter who has aspirations of playing in the 2020 Olympics. It is the program that turned out a teenager who is projected as an immediate impact player next year at Wisconsin.

Carlini headlines The News-Gazette’s 31st All-State Volleyball Team as the Player of the Year.

She was the catalyst on the school’s first regional championship team in 15 years as a senior. A loss in the sectional semifinals came against nationally ranked Lisle Benet (rated 14th this week by prepvolleyball.com), which won every postseason match in consecutive sets before reaching state, where it successfully defended its Class 4A championship.

As proud as she is about her personal achievements, Carlini is just as happy about how she contributed to a turnaround at her high school.

“I had never considered playing anywhere else, and I am glad I got the opportunity to put West Aurora back into the spotlight and put it in a better place than I found it,” Carlini said.

“The regional title that West Aurora won this year has so much meaning to all of the girls on the team. We had worked so hard all season. To finally win a regional title meant more to us than words can explain. We were ecstatic.”

Her high school team was part of a building block in a sport she has played at the club level she since was 6 years old and in first grade.

Her Sports Performance club program, under the direction of Rick Butler, has trained 10 athletes who have gone on to become The News-Gazette’s All-State Player of the Year. Five of those, including Carlini, have come in the past 12 years (Kelly Murphy, Tara Hester, Katie Bruzdzinski and Dani Nyenhuis.)

Carlini has refined her skills through her year-round commitment, but playing three months a year for a high school that wasn’t a traditional power was beneficial, too, Butler believes.

“It might have been a good thing,” Butler said. “It put a lot more responsibility on her shoulders. She was in a position where she couldn’t make mistakes.”

College coaches were well aware of Carlini long before she first put on a West Aurora uniform. She received her first recruiting letter when she was in seventh grade. It was from LSU.

That was a year after she flew to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as an 11-year-old without her parents (accompanied by a chaperone) to participate in a national age-group tournament with her Sports Performance club team.

In conjunction with her skills, the 6-foot-1 Carlini has one of the intangibles that coaches crave.

“Some kids are figuring out what they want,” Butler said. “She knows she wants to win. If they keep score, winning is important to her. Sometimes it’s hard to teach that competitive drive. She is hyper-competitive.”

John Tawa coordinates the national rankings for prepvolleyball.com. After watching Carlini — whom he rated No. 1 nationally at any position in the preseason — he reached conclusions similar to Butler’s.

“She is one of the most competitive ‘hate-to-lose’ players I have ever seen,” Tawa said.

Carlini also has an attitude that reflects her success.

“Each day, I try to get better, even if it is just infinitesimally, at both the setting and hitting parts of the game,” she said.

Tawa described Carlini as “the ultimate physical setter,” adding, “Her fitness level is extreme. You have to respect her offense so when she jumps to set, the defense must jump also, creating one-on-ones all over the court. Her blocking can shut down the best left-side attackers.”

Butler chuckles when asked about Carlini’s strengths. Where to begin, he wonders?

“Most players have weaknesses,” Butler said. “She doesn’t have any weaknesses. She is outstanding at every skill. She is extremely polished.

“She is one of those few kids who has a very high ceiling as a setter or hitter. She could play Division I as a hitter or setter, but she has elite-level setting potential, maybe as an Olympic setter.”

Starting club ball as a 6-year-old was a significant step, according to Butler.

“She has the tools, but she also has thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of experience,” he said. “A lot of kids don’t have that when they start at a later age.”

Gale Carlini was responsible for her daughter’s entrance into volleyball. After college, she remained active in a twice-a-week women’s league in West Chicago.

“I asked to be brought along,” Carlini said. “From the beginning, I loved playing volleyball, and I got used to being in the gym environment.”

Her daughter wasn’t running wild through the halls unsupervised while the adults played.

“She would pick up a ball and play against the wall when she was 3 and 4 years old,” Mom said. “She caught on quickly.”

Gale Carlini spent time with her, too, but intentionally didn’t make it easy.

“I’d hit balls at her hard and keep her moving,” she said. “I wanted her to learn early on that this game is all about quick reaction. I’ve always said, ‘It’s not an option for the ball to hit the floor.’ ”

When they weren’t at the gym, Carlini would have a ball at home.

“If only the walls and floors of our house could talk,” said father Anthony Carlini, an Itasca firefighter. “Relentless hours of serving, passing, setting, hitting against our stairway walls, dining room and family room walls; many hours of touch volleyball and pepper played in the front living room with my wife, myself and even her brother and sister.”

Even after watching his daughter play for more than a decade, Dad still marvels at what he sees.

“What impresses me most is how she makes plays out of nothing or plays that seem impossible,” Anthony Carlini said. “It’s like she has a sixth sense all the time when it comes to the volleyball court.”

At home, Gale Carlini doesn’t see the intense game face that is exhibited on the court.

“She is not shy in the least,” Mom said. “Lauren is a total comedian. She loves to make everybody laugh. She loves to make crazy faces.”

There is one thing, however, for which she doesn’t care.

“Lauren is extremely humble and doesn’t like it when we brag about her,” Mom said.

Volleyball helped Carlini develop as an athlete and as an individual.

“Very early, Lauren was able to talk with anyone with no problem,” Gale Carlini said. “I think that’s because she did stand out and people wanted to find out more about her.”

What they will learn is she has eclectic interests.

“I love reading about most anything, especially military books involving the Navy SEALs,” Carlini said. “I absolutely love driving. Whether it’s go-karts, a video game or my actual car, I love just driving around and listening to music.

“I’m convinced that if I wasn’t a volleyball player, I’d be a drag racer.”

News-Gazette All-State Players of the Year
2012    Lauren Carlini    West Aurora    S/OH
2011    Meghan Niski    St. Charles East    OH
2010    Jocelynn Birks    Lyons LaGrange    OH
2009    AnneMarie Hickey    Joliet Catholic    OH
2008    Hannah Werth    Chatham Glenwood    OH/S
2007    Kelly Farrell    Crystal Lake Central    S
2006    Kelly Murphy    Joliet Catholic    S/OH
2005    Tara Hester    Naperville Central    OH
2004    Sarah Kwasigroch    Sandburg    S
2003    Katie Bruzdzinski    Naperville North    OH
2002    Meghan Macdonald    Downers Grove South    MH
2001    Dani Nyenhuis    St. Charles East    OH
2000    Ogonna Nnamani    Normal U-High    OH
1999    Ogonna Nnamani    Normal U-High    OH
1998    Elizabeth Gower    Naperville Central    S/OH
1997    Mia Perry    Jacksonville    OH
1996    Katie Schumacher    Mother McAuley    MH
1995    Ryann Connors    Mother McAuley    OH
1994    Tracy Black    Downers Grove South    OH
1993    Terri Zemaitis    Downers Grove South    MH
1992    Colleen Miniuk    St. Charles    OH
1991    Marnie Triefenbach    Belleville West    MH
1990    Marnie Triefenbach    Belleville West    MH
1989    Tina Rogers    Mount Pulaski    MH
1988    Eileen Shannon    Immaculate Conception    OH
1987    Julie Bremner    Wheaton St. Francis    S
1986    Laura Bush    Stewardson-Strasburg    MH

Get to know Lauren Carlini
Why she’s Player of the Year: Wisconsin recruit and three-year team captain led school to back-to-back DuPage Valley Conference titles. As a senior, had 333 kills, .462 hitting efficiency, 303 assists, 156 digs, 92 aces and 50 blocks. Prepvolleyball.com ranks Carlini as the No. 1 recruit nationally

Quoting Carlini: “As much as I like hitting, I love setting more. It is an amazing feeling setting up my hitters and watching them get those huge kills. That’s what makes me the most happy on the court. As a hitter, you get the spotlight and much more recognition, but that does not matter to me. I just want the satisfaction of helping my team, and winning.”

A few of my favorite things: Hot Wings ... Cold Stone ice cream ... Ray Lewis ... Psychology ... “Transformers” and “Avengers” ... Robert Downey Jr. ... Qdoba Mexican Grill ... Dodge Stratus ... On my bucket list, to travel overseas, to compete on the U.S. Olympic Team and to go whitewater rafting.

About Carlini: “Two years ago, she set for the USA Youth National Team, in Turkey. They beat China in the finals, and she was the MVP. If she has the kind of college career I think she will have, she will play professionally overseas. She is for sure at that level.” — Rick Butler, Sports Performance club coach


Categories (3):Prep Sports, Volleyball, Sports